My mother took work outside our home to help make ends meet. That left me and my siblings to Grandmother's care. We did not mind; When you grow up as we did, you learn the necessity of hard work. And because we were poor, pocket money was something of a luxury. We had to use our own initiative to get any.
I was too young to baby-sit like my elder sisters, too young to help on the farm on weekends like my brother. The one thing I could do was scour the ditches and back ways for returnable pop bottles, each of which brought in a shiny nickel.
One autumn in that dusty, sleepy prairie childhood I remember very well. My older siblings had to return to school (or "jail," as my brother put it), and I savored each day of my freedom. This was the last year I would have such a luxury, and what better way to spend it than by making my fortune? While my mother waited on farmers and deliverymen at the local coffee shop, my grandmother had charge of me.
We spent half the time in the dusty corner store where she worked three days a week for Mr. MacIntyre. It was wall-to-wall delights for a 5-year-old girl. There was a pickle jar - glass, and full of brine - from which, for two cents, you could delight your taste buds with Grandmother's homemade garlic dills. I swept floors and washed the windows of the old shop for two-cent pickles.
But I especially loved cleaning behind the counter where the jars of candy awaited a coin: blue fish, licorice sticks, peppermint swirls, and toffees. The pop machine held the most delicious cream soda. But I needed cash to partake of such delicacies. So, with grandmother's permission, I sallied forth on the great nickel bottle search.
Keeping the store in sight, I scoured the fields and steps of buildings for the elusive empty containers. I watched like a hawk while farmhands finished their last swallows of pop, and I hounded folks door to door for empties. The bottle search kept me occupied during the long hours, and soon I had enough for a small bag of candy. Every day I repeated this task, and I became one of Grandmother's regular customers.
One day while out on my rounds, I chanced behind the store where my grandmother worked. I could not believe my eyes! There was a veritable gold mine of empty bottles! Grabbing my trusty wagon, I loaded up as many of the glass containers as I could and wheeled them to the front of the store. I got so much money that I even treated my sisters to a few pieces of candy. Grandmother beamed at me for my hard work.